Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 17

Jenny had been asked to pick some apples from the orchard for a large pie that Mrs Banbury was baking for the master’s return. It was good to be out of the stuffy kitchen and away from Elsa and her smug face.

Rather than being given her marching orders, the girl had returned from Mrs Craven’s drawing-room with a smile on her face and had told everyone that, from now on, she was to be the mistress’s personal maid. Charlotte had pronounced it unfair, but Mrs Banbury had been quick to stop her short.

“What’s done is done and the mistress must have her reasons,” she’d said, but Jenny was still smarting. It would mean she would have to continue sharing her room with Elsa, but worse than that had been the pleased look on Robert’s face when he had heard the girl was staying.

In frustration she picked up one of the fallen apples and threw it as hard as she could across the orchard. It hit the trunk of a tree and shattered into pieces.

“Goodness me!”

Jenny froze, her arm still raised. The voice had come from behind the low wall that separated the orchard from the ornamental garden. As she stood there, a face appeared from over the top of the wall.

It was Miss Elizabeth; she must have been sitting on the bench that overlooked the pond.

“I’m sorry, Miss Elizabeth. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“I wondered what it was, Jenny. I’m glad it was only you. I thought it might have been one of the gamekeeper’s lads creating mischief. Why were you throwing apples at the tree?”

Jenny hung her head. She liked Miss Elizabeth and the girl had always been friendly to her, but she could hear Mrs Banbury’s voice in her head.

“You must try to be invisible in the house, girl.”

Although Babcock Manor’s household was not as grand as Mr English’s at Clarence Hall, and with fewer servants, it was still expected that those below stairs would only speak when they were spoken to by members of the Craven household. Now, even though Miss Lizzie was younger than herself, Jenny found it hard to meet the young girl’s eye.

She picked up the last of the windfalls and put them in her basket, and as she did so, Elizabeth came through the arched gateway. There was a book in her hand and Jenny found it difficult to tear her eyes away from the gold lettering on the cover. It was the most beautiful book she had ever seen.

Lizzie saw her looking.

“It’s ‘David Copperfield’. You can borrow it, if you like. I’ve just finished it.”

Jenny coloured and looked at her boots.

“I can’t read, miss.”

“Oh, Jenny. How terribly stupid of me. I didn’t think.”

Picking up the basket, Jenny turned away.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Did you never go to school, Jenny? Did nobody teach you?”

“I went for a bit, but my ma always needed help with the little ones, and my pa . . . Well, he wasn’t there much. When I was twelve I came here.”

“There are pictures in it, too. Here, look.”

Lizzie held out the book and Jenny couldn’t help but put out her hand to touch the fine leather cover. But she would not take it. It seemed wrong to open a book from the big house.

The apple tree beneath which they were standing was circled by an old wooden bench. Lizzie sat and motioned for Jenny to join her.

“I could teach you, if you like.”

Unable to think of what to say, Jenny stared at the blue cover of the book. She wanted more than anything to be able to read, and for the titles written on the spines of the books in the library to make some sense.

Most of all, though, she wanted to be able to read the book of fairy tales that stood on the wide stone window-ledge of her mother’s cottage to her young brothers and sisters.

It had once been her grandmother’s and, on her days off, she would sit with the little ones and look at the pictures. The children loved the stories she would make up to go with them, but how she’d love to understand the true meaning of the words written on those pages!

“But there’s my work, miss.”

Lizzie’s smile faded.

“Yes, of course.”

Jenny at once felt sorry for the girl. It must be dull spending her days in the house with only her governess for company. Although she wouldn’t have minded having Miss Osbourne as a teacher, it was not the same as having someone your own age to talk to. Miss Elizabeth must be very lonely indeed.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.